As a child, one of my favorite areas of the playground was the teeter totter. I loved it! I loved sailing up to the sky and wished I could stay up there, but my friend on the other end would always bring it back down. I hated being at the bottom. It was like ‘up’ one minute and ‘down’ the next. That is what they say mental illness can feel like….depressed one minute and elated the next.
I have some first-hand experience with mental illness, as several close members of my family have dealt with this issue for most of my life. Looking back, I didn’t know it was a mental problem. I just knew these beloved members of my family were not always happy and did not always “behave themselves.” I often prayed that they would be peaceful and feel God’s love for them. Also, back then, people didn’t talk about the up-and-down behavior that was evident to everyone. These family members were called “sick” and it was ‘kept quiet.’ I am glad that is no longer the case.
Today, many celebrities have come out speaking about their own struggles with mental illness. For example, Academy Award winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones admitted that she suffers from bipolar disorder. And, talk-show host Larry King made his own battle with depression public. As a result of our current willingness to talk about this subject, many studies are now being conducted about mental illness. And when it comes to solutions, a wide array of approaches is being explored. One such focus is on the role that religion and spirituality can play in improving mental health.
There is increasing evidence that spiritual beliefs can have a positive effect on mentally ill patients’ lives. That is encouraging if one also considers that recent statistics by the 2012 Pew Research Center Study show nearly 80% of Americans say they practice some type of religion. Kenneth I. Pargament, Ph.D, is a leading expert in the psychology of religion and spirituality (known for his scientific analyses of religion and mental health). In March, he was interviewed by the American Psychological Association (APA) http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/03/religion-spirituality.aspx. In this interview, he elaborated on how things are changing in today’s psychological practice. He said that in the past, “psychologists steered clear of religion and spirituality in clinical practice.” Could that mean that some psychologists and psychiatrists who previously had only concentrated on medically treating mental illness are now shifting their thought to the possibility that gaining (or regaining) some sense of God can be a real solution to their patients’ illness? Possibly, because he goes on to report, “emerging research is showing that spiritually integrated approaches to treatment are as effective as other treatments. There is, in short, good scientifically based reason to be more sensitive to religion and spirituality in clinical practice.” That change in thought in the medical community says to those suffering with mental disorders: there is hope; there is another way.
In addition to the APA in Washington, DC, others in the mental health and medical communities are also finding signs that mental illness can be changed by spirituality and reliance on God for help. In his book, Prayer is Good Medicine, physician and researcher, Larry Dossey, maintains that “praying for oneself or others can make a scientifically measurable difference in recovering from illness or trauma.” After reading Dossey’s book, Douglas Bloch, authored My Story: How I Was Healed of Depression, http://www.healingfromdepression.com/how-i-was-healed-from-depression.htm in which he shares his own story of recovery from depression and mental illness by the “powerful healing energy of prayer.” His story is an amazing journey from mental illness to healing through his faith in God, and supports the promising findings in studies on the connection between mental illness and spirituality.
So, can one actually improve their mental health by praying or believing in God? Absolutely! What does the Bible say about mental illness? Well, actually, the Bible never mentions “mental illness” by that name. But there are references to those with mental sicknesses. In the Old Testament, it is understood that King Saul suffered but was calmed when David played his harp. In the New Testament, the mentally disturbed were healed instantaneously and permanently by Jesus. Clearly, something about Jesus’ understanding of God allowed him to heal rather than simply ameliorate or calm.
My own family experience with mental disorders usually included extreme fear and anxiety. But, we always found comfort and in our spiritual resources such as church and the Bible, especially this verse, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Happily, I can report that my family members have greatly benefited by their trust in God for their mental health.
Similarly, Dr. Pargament comments in his interview with the APA that “People can draw on many religious and spiritual resources that have been tied to better adjustment in times of crisis. These positive religious coping methods include spiritual support from God or a higher power…” That’s great news for those who suffer since it’s a source that is available 24/7 and anywhere.
While I am not recommending that people immediately throw away their anti-depressants, I do believe that the more we understand about this connection with the divine and the more we bring it into the treatment of these problems, the more people will get off of the mental teeter-totter and experience a ‘sound mind.’
(Debra Chew writes about the connection between thought, spirituality and health. She has been published in the chattanoogan.com, Memphis Commercial Appeal, and in the UK. She is also the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science for TN. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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I have been an advocate for the mentally ill for decades. Old Christian Science doctrine and similar voodoo has no business in modern medicine. MI folks need their meds.
The article should have been on the "opinion " page. Ms. Chew is with Christian Science, apparently a modern day adherent of the Victorian spiritualism of Mary Baker Eady.
Ms. Chew's statement that "...MI can be changed by spirituality and reliance on God for healing" is not only wrong, but it is dangerously wrong. Mental illnesses, or brain disorders, have proven regimens of medication that are very effective in the reduction and maintenance of symptoms.
In the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, we are confronted with people everyday who want to place brain disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia outside the realm of physical medicine. Typically, people get stabilized with medication. Then, they take themselves off of their meds, with disastrous consequences. That has been the case in all of the recent mass murders by the mentally ill. In the case of bi-polar disorder, it's almost a given that this will happen.
It is dangerous and irresponsible to suggest a life without medication for people with mental illness. It would be like telling diabetics that sufficient faith would remove the need for insulin.
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Well said. Going off your meds can be disastrous. It caused much heartache and terrible ramifications in my family when our late daughter would go off her meds. She was a victim of bipolar disorder. I am a Christian and I believe in prayer but I also believe God gave mankind the brains and skills to research and treat illness with medicine and expects us to use it for the betterment of mankind.